In 3D printing a life-size elephant for the “Get Off the Elephant” campaign, Dutch inventor Joris van Tubergen developed a simple, elegant solution for extending the Z-axis of five Ultimaker 3D printers to print each slice of the massive, plastic pachyderm. Upon the release of a short film documenting the cause to raise awareness around the abuse suffered by elephants in captivity, van Tubergen announced that he would soon take his design to Kickstarter. Now, there’s good news for anyone wanting to print unimaginably tall structures easily with an ordinary Ultimaker 3D printer: the Dutch engineer’s crowdfunding campaign has officially launched.
As you may recall from Joris’s installation at Schiphol airport, the Z-Unlimited mod allows users to flip an Ultimaker original 3D printer upside down so that it can climb its way up a wall while it’s printing. In a press release, the artist explains that implementing the Z-Unlimited mod only takes about 10 minutes and is just as easy to dismantle. Along with the rail and carriage hardware in the Z-Unlimited DIY kit, there is a “smart support system” that makes adjusting the Z-axis height easy, according to Joris, as well as a software update for the printer.
I’m still trying to understand how the smart support system works. The engineer describes it on his website as follows: “The arms can be mounted on any height. Mount the arms on both side while your 3D print is running, exactly on the height your object is at. Take the yarn and create a mesh over the object. The plastic melts onto the yarn and secures the object. When the print is ready the yarn is easily pulled out without leaving any marks.”
The basic package, priced at €495 (or an early bird price of €395), comes with everything necessary, including a 1.2 meter-long rail, to give an Ultimaker a Z-axis printing height of up to 65 cm. van Tubergen has also put together an XXL kit (priced at €595 or €495 for early bird pricing), capable of extending the Z-axis to 1850 mm and a Skyscraper kit (priced at €695 or €595 for early bird pricing), allowing it to reach an impressive 3050 mm in height. That’s about 10 feet!
Though you may not be 3D printing your own life-size elephant, Joris does have a suggestion that many people might be interested in printing with such a huge z-axis: life-size human portraits. With the Z-Unlimited, Ultimaker owners could move beyond those 3D printed shelfies onto full-scale mannequins. And, if you don’t have an Ultimaker, fret not, Z-Unlimited is open source, so you may be able to modify the add-on’s blueprints for your own needs. In the case that the Kickstarter does very well, I bet there’s even a chance for Joris to work on mods for other, similar machines, as well.
Either way, I can’t wait to see what the world does with this awesome feature. To see one example of the possibilities capable with Z-Unlimited, watch the mini documentary on World Animal Protection’s “Get Off the Elephant” campaign below: